By Olly MacNamee
Given that the antagonist and all round horrendous human being, Jean-Claude Delcourt is dead and almost buried at the start of the opening episode of the critically acclaimed and multi-award winning Flemish black-comedy The Out-Laws, he certainly casts a long and grotesque shadow upon this ten-part series from Belgium. But then, good things come to those who wait and this is a pretty darn good show, with a mix of black-comedy and tense dramatic moments in equal measure; a well balanced import from the land that can produce the extremes offered by Tintin and Man Bites Dog. Creator Malin-Sarah Gozin, with direction by Kaat Beels and Nathalie Basteyn, should be proud of this murderously dark drama and their array of trophies would seem to agree.
While we are introduced to the clan of sisters and other characters in the opening episode, it isn’t long until their collective plans are revealed to viewers in a show that has as much one foot in the present as it does in the past. Each new episode brings us closer to the hows, the whats, the wheres and the whens of Jean-Claude’s murder. One blundering revenge plot after another is seemingly the focus for each episode, leaving us with the knowing question: how will he be eventually killed off? Paint-balling, arson, a faked suicide — what will see him meet his maker? Who, in this case, must surely be Lucifer himself.
The blonde-haired quintet of sisters each have their moment under the spotlight as the series progresses and each one has their own nefarious links to the odious Jean-Claude; who has managed to blight them in his own way. Each one, arguably, has good reason to bump him off, but the initial murderous intents are planned by Bibi (Ruth Becquart) — who wears an eye-patch for reasons explained in a later episode, and the matriarchal eldest sister — Eva (Barbara Sarafian).
Soon, two other siblings, Veerle (Kristin Van Pellicom), who is having an affair, and Rebekka (Maaike Neauville), a masseuse and sometimes lingerie model, are more than happy to join in as one assassination attempt after another goes wrong. Usually because while they’re in the right place at the right time, Jean-Claude isn’t. He’s usually slipping off to blackmail another friend, neighbour or co-worker via a voice-changer and his passion to inflict pain on anyone and everyone he meets. By the end, even I was egging the sisters on in their plans. And, throughout it all, Jean-Claude’s put upon (and put-down) wife, Goedele (Inge Paulussen), is kept in the dark; seemingly of a victim trapped in a loveless, sexless, emotionless marriage to a monster.
The dark humour is, of course, to be had in the failed murder attempts and how their intended victim escapes his fate each and every time. Like watching a pack of Wile E. Coyotes chasing Road Runner, one cannot help but laugh at attempt after failed attempt while all the time, in the opening credits, there is a visual clue to his eventual demise that stares you in the face each and every episode. This makes for a strange ‘whodunnit’ and Gozin, Beels and Basteyn do a great job in making us look one way, while the true reveal is a starling surprise — and a satisfactory conclusion, too. I don’t think it could have happened any other way, really.
As each attempt is documented, we begin to catch up to the present in which desperate insurers Mathias (Greet Van Rampelberg) and Thomas Dewitt (Robbie Cleiren) cannot afford to pay out on Jean-Claude’s life insurance policy or they’ll be bankrupted. They take it upon themselves to try and investigate his death and in doing so, love and hope blossom. It does so for Mathias, the more sympathetic of the two. Indeed, he’s one of the more sympathetic characters outright, and I found myself rooting for his growing closeness to one of the sisters, who I will let you discover for yourself.
A strong female cast, sisters doing for themselves, who have their own problems and failures — usually made more stark and visible at the hand of Jean-Claude — who define the adage that blood is thicker than water, ready to stand up for their abused sister because she cannot, or doesn’t want to, see the truth. And, hats off to Dirk Roofhooft who plays the Neanderthal misanthropist that is Jean-Claude with creeping success, amongst a star-studded cast (well, in Belgium) of strong and steely female performances.
I have heard that an American remake is on the cards, but personally, I wouldn’t bother. Seek out this DVD or Blu-ray from Arrow Films, out in the UK on Monday 19th September and watch the real deal.